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I'm very surprised to get only one result for "two same ideas" on Google Books, especially because the result appears in a grammar book (Everyday Grammar by Irene Chong):

Molly and Jimmy are good friends, (and - to join two same ideas)

I know that "same" there can be replaced with "similar" and I verified that "two similar ideas" is rather common both on Google Books and on the most important American and British online newspapers.

Also, in the same way, I verified that "the same ideas" is grammatical.

So, I concluded that there is something wrong with the word "same" in "two same ideas", but I cannot understand what.

Question is: Why are "the same ideas" and "two similar ideas" correct while "two same ideas" is not—or, at least, is so uncommon?

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If two ideas, for example, are similar, the implication is there really are two ideas - that have many points in common (though sometimes the points in common may be very context-specific).

If two ideas are the same, the implication is there's actually only one idea (albeit perhaps presented in two very different forms).

This distinction is commonly understood. Thus, for example...

1: John's and Peter's essays both make the same point.
2: John's and Peter's essays both make the same points.

...are both valid. In (1), the implication is one single point is made by both essays (either or both essays may make additional points which aren't in the other). In (2), the implication is more than one point is made in both essays.

Thus, there's nothing wrong with saying "We both have the same ideas" - it just means we have more than one idea in common. But no-one ever says ?"We both have two same ideas". If the meaning is there's one idea [which we've each thought of independently], it's "We both have the same idea".

If the intended meaning is we've each independently thought of "Idea A" and "Idea B", English doesn't really have a succinct unambiguous way of expressing the concept using the word same. You'd probably rephrase to something like "We have two ideas in common", or "We share two ideas".


That's at the semantic level. At the grammatical level, all I can say is standard usage is at least consistent - we never say ?"This is a same idea", or ?"Here are three same coins". If several things are the same, there's really only one of "it" (within the current "frame of reference"). That's why it's singular, and why it can't take the indefinite article (to speak of "an X" implies the existence of multiple X's).

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    Seems to me the "succinct unambiguous way of expressing" it is John and Peter have the same two ideas. – StoneyB on hiatus Apr 9 '13 at 21:55
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    @StoneyB: I can't disagree. At the time of writing, my thinking was being confused by "I have an idea and he has an idea. That's two ideas, even if they're sufficiently similar to be considered the same". I guess I meant English doesn't have a way of expressing the same two ideas (using the word "same") that would be intuitively obvious to anyone who's not familiar with syntactic/semantic distinctions between same, similar, equivalent. It's a murky area, and I look forward to Deutsch's use of fungibility becoming more widespread. – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica Apr 9 '13 at 22:07
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It's a peculiarity of the usage of "same" that it can't modify any noun with any determiner except "the". Indeed (with some reservations which don't really bear on the OQ) it requires the determiner "the".

In "two similar ideas", "two" is a determiner. "Two same ideas" would be ungrammatical, because "same" may not modify the same noun as "two".

The issue is one of grammar, not of meaning. The meaning of "identical" is even closer to that of "same" than "similar" is, yet "identical" may be used grammatically in ways that "similar" can and "same" cannot:

  • John's and Peter's essays make similar points.
  • John's and Peter's essays make identical points.
  • John's and Peter's essays make the same points.
  • *John's and Peter's essays make same points.
  • Ann and Bob played identical pieces.
  • Ann and Bob played the same piece.
  • *Ann and Bob played same piece.
  • Ann and Bob played the same pieces.
  • *Ann and Bob played same pieces.

Reservations. Yes, "same" can be used without "the", in noun-phrases which modify nouns, e.g. "same-day delivery" and "same-sex marriage". And sometimes the "the" before "same" can be omitted in informal language. But the main point stands.

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